Prior to the 2005-06 season, the NHL made the decision to determine regular-season games that were still tied after overtime with a shootout. While the decision was met with heavy criticism, it led to some beautiful goals, great saves and exciting finishes to games. That was certainly the case on Nov. 26, 2005, when the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals went on to have one of the most dramatic shootouts in hockey history.
Setting the Stage
Both the Blueshirts and Capitals were rebuilding when the teams met at Madison Square Garden and both had talented young players. A relatively unknown Swedish goaltender was dominating in goal for New York early in his rookie season, which earned him the nickname “The King.” It was the beginning of Henrik Lundqvist’s rise to stardom with the Rangers and he was in net for their game against the Capitals.
The Capitals had a highly touted rookie of their own, as Alexander Ovechkin finally began his NHL career after the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He was already off to a great start when the two teams met and would go on to finish the season with 52 goals and 106 points, earning him the Calder Trophy.
The Rangers also had a star in the midst of a fantastic season as Jaromir Jagr’s stint with New York was off to an excellent start. He formed excellent chemistry with linemates Michael Nylander and Martin Straka. They formed one of the most exciting lines in hockey that season and Jagr went on to finish the season with 54 goals and 123 points, both Rangers’ records that still stand today.
After regulation and overtime, the game was tied at two thanks to an excellent performance by Lundqvist, who stopped 35 of 37 shots. He helped the Rangers kill off a Washington power play in overtime, sending the game to a shootout, which set the stage for a duel with Caps’ goalie Olaf Kolzig.
Fans were immediately treated to a showdown between Lundqvist and Ovechkin as Washington elected to shoot first and sent their star rookie out. Ovechkin moved in with speed but Lundqvist stayed with him and made a glove save, bringing the Madison Square Garden crowd to its feet.
Andrew Cassels scored for Washington in the second round but Nylander responded with a backhand goal to level the shootout. Jagr had an opportunity to win the game for New York but Kolzig denied his backhand attempt. Despite his prolific scoring, Jagr made just 2 of 10 shootout attempts in his career.
After the goalies exchanged saves Brian Willsie scored for the Capitals and the Rangers needed a goal to stay alive. Ville Nieminen became the first of many unlikely heroes for the Blueshirts on the night. He scored just five goals in 48 games with the Rangers that season before getting traded, but beat Kolzig with a deke and extended the shootout.
As the shootout continued, both teams were forced to use gritty fourth-liners and defensemen but neither team could score again until the 14th round, when Bryan Muir scored for Washington.
The Rangers were forced to send Jason Strudwick out for them with the game on the line. The big, stay-at-home defenseman finished his career with 13 goals in 674 games and was certainly not in the lineup for his offensive ability. Against all odds, he managed to sneak a wrist shot past Kolzig, sending New York’s bench into a frenzy as he pumped his fist and the crowd roared.
Lundqvist bounced back with a save against Matt Bradley and the Rangers sent out Marek Malik with an opportunity to win the game in the 15th round of the shootout. Like Strudwick, he was a big, defensive-minded defenseman, who was listed as 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds. He had not yet scored a goal that season.
Malik calmly moved in, put the puck between his legs, and beat Kolzig top-shelf to win the game. He then celebrated with a Statue of Liberty-like pose (with the Rangers wearing their Statue of Liberty jerseys) and cooly nodded his head in approval as his teammates mobbed him and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Malik’s goal remains one of the most memorable goals scored in a shootout and is certainly one of the most shocking ones.
15 Years Later
In a lot of ways, things have come full circle for both the Rangers and the players who starred in the shootout. The Blueshirts are even bringing back the Statue of Liberty jerseys this season for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Nylander is now retired but has two sons in the NHL. Lundqvist and Ovechkin, who faced off in five different playoff series, will now be teammates next season, after Lundqvist signed with the Capitals this offseason.
As a team, the Rangers find themselves in a similar position to the one they were in during the 2005-06 season. They are looking to make the transition from rebuilding to competing in the postseason. Instead of Jagr, Nylander and Straka, they have stars like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider as well as Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere.
They also have a young goalie with the potential to become a star in Igor Shesterkin, after Lundqvist spent 15 stellar seasons with New York. Shesterkin has shown flashes of that potential and this season will give him the opportunity to secure his spot as the team’s top goalie, just as Lundqvist did 15 years ago.
While Lundqvist became a Rangers’ legend, Malik, the man who scored the game-winner, spent three seasons with the Blueshirts and eventually went back to Europe to play in his native Czech Republic before retiring. He wasn’t a flashy player and scored just six goals in 185 games with the Rangers, but he will always be remembered for his spectacular shootout goal.
That’s the beauty of sports. Any game can be spectacular and any player can make a remarkable play. Given the talent on this Rangers team, that can certainly be the case next season, as they look to make memories and take the next step towards competing for the Cup.